Working in the Weinberger lab, this summer, has been an incredible experience. I have not only been gaining lab skills and experience, but also, I have been introduced to the dynamics of the research world, where I have had the opportunity to meet passionate and committed scientists. My lab co-intern and I have been given an experiment to work on over the summer under the guidance of a postdoc, who has been encouraging us to attempt as much as possible our own trial and error. While this is challenging, and frustrating at times, it has been really exciting to dive right in and learn from our mistakes. When I was first introduced to the experiment that I would be working on: a DNA cloning and transformation experiment to create a new strain of virus, some of the concepts sounded familiar from Bio Lab in school. However, I couldn’t quite grasp their applications, and was not quite clear on the bigger picture of the project. Thankfully, everyone in the lab is super knowledgable and extremely helpful. They encouraged me to ask questions; each time someone explained something to me, it started to become clearer. I realized that, although I had learned some basics of virus anatomy and function in class, I did not know nearly enough to start comprehending more of the complicated procedures and experiments being conducted in the lab. So, I spent much of the first week, reading portions of a lab textbook on virology and watching lectures and procedures on youtube.
My next challenge was making sense of the protocol. My supervisor handed me a packet that was a hodgepodge of procedural steps, notes, and calculations composed by different researches over time. As a somewhat obsessively organized person, I knew that one of my main goals for the summer was to rewrite the protocol in a clear and direct way that contained all of the necessary information without any contradictions or confusing anecdotes. To tackle this problem, I began by reviewing the protocols, organizing them into steps, and highlighting any contradictory information. Additionally, after many conversations with other lab researchers, my co-intern and I created a pictorial schematic of the experiment that demonstrated the major processes. With each step of the experiment, we returned to our protocol and made changes and clarifications. The process itself has been at times extremely gratifying and, at times, extremely frustrating. The DNA is very sensitive; the efficiency of the transformation is pretty low, so we have had to make multiple attempts of almost every step. With this being said, we learned crucial things from each mistake and approached the next attempt much more prepared. It has been really exciting to see how the lab techniques I learned in school that seemed somewhat irrelevant and useless, at the time, actually have really important uses in labs.
While the hands-on lab work has been very interesting - probably the most eye-opening part of the summer - so far, it has been getting a glimpse of how the research world runs and witnessing the relentless pursuit of scientists to understand the world. I had the privilege, a few weeks ago, of sitting down with Dr. Weinberger and hearing about his vision and approach to scientific research. His lab is really exciting in which he has many dedicated researchers all exploring very different questions; questions that are all related by a common thread and shed light on fate decisions in viruses. Additionally, over the last few weeks, I have been able to sit down with some of the members of the lab and hear about their projects. It has been really fascinating to learn about some of the really exciting questions being explored, and the potential applications of their findings. Every Wednesday, the whole lab meets and two lab members present their research and data. Then, everyone in the lab has the opportunity to provide constructive criticism, new ideas, and discussions on future steps. Until now, I never really thought about how scientific journal articles were composed and the thought that goes into every figure, heading, and format. It has been really cool to witness how questions goes to an experiment which results in data that is then analyzed and formatted and published. There is so much thought put into every single step including presenting the data in a way that really provides the reader with an understanding of the findings. Additionally, the Gladstone institute has seminars and lectures with researchers from all over the country. It has been really interesting to see how thousands of different researches, each exploring very specific question, come together and build off each other to come to a clearer picture of how the world works. With each new finding, new questions emerge that can then be pursued. To me, it seems that successful research works almost paradoxically. You have to, at once, be extremely creative, think of new questions, new approaches, new applications that have never been considered or explored, while conducting credible experiments and reliable data in which you need to have an extremely disciplined routine and very repetitive procedure. It is often very exciting conceptually but can be very monotonous in terms of actual procedure.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to continue to meet with other members of the lab and hear about their research and their ideas. I also would like to continue in taking advantage of all the amazing resources that the Gladstone Institute offers and, successfully, complete my transformation experiment.